Helping save trees can also help save lives

Lela Nargi

THE WASHINGTON POST – Trees are certainly beautiful. If you look closely, you might see the birds, squirrels and bugs that make their homes in them. But trees have another important role: They can help save human lives.

That’s what a new study of street tree goals in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has found. The study was conducted by the United States (US) Department of Agriculture Forest Service. It looked at what could happen if the city increased its tree canopy – the topmost, leafy cover created by a group of trees – by 30 per cent. The answer: The early deaths of 400 people might be prevented.

How can trees do such big job? They clean the air by absorbing pollution that can cause disease. They also absorb noise that can raise stress levels or create sleeping problems. They reduce dangerous heat by blocking the Sun’s rays. And they improve people’s mental health.

Philadelphia isn’t the only US city that wants to plant more trees. In Boston, Massachusetts, an organisation called Speak for the Trees is trying to increase tree canopy by 35 per cent in the next 10 years. They’re doing this by giving away 1,000 trees this year. They’re also teaching teens how to find good spots to plant new trees and take care of them.

Because of COVID-19, Speak for the Trees co-founder David Meshoulam said teens will learn virtually this summer. For six weeks, “teens will work in [online] teams to tell stories about community through the urban forest,” said Meshoulam. They’ll figure out “what was [in a neighbourhood] at one point, with more or [fewer] trees. They’ll look at what people think about trees now and how they take care of them. Then they’ll figure out what the opportunities and challenges are” in planting trees in that neighbourhood.

Meshoulam hopes this will help the teens become ambassadors for trees. He’s also hopes that they will be able to help his organisation plant trees this fall. “It’s a family-friendly and accessible activity that connects people back to their community and nature.”